A week ago we marvelled at the words “when the day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid“. Their author Amanda Gorman already stepped out aflame: as the latest model to have signed with IMG Models, as per the internet. I am not here to judge – the octogenarian author Joan Didion also did a spot of modelling as the face of Céline’s sunglasses in 2015. Times are tough for writers, and Gorman is very young, so she is wise to capitalise on her megawatt notoriety as much as she can. As the saying goes: poetry, but make it fashun.
My Instagram-scrolling was further paused when I came across an ad for women’s T-shirt whose front said the following: You deserve orgasms, love and laughter. No problems there – surely we are deserving of all that. Having the full list printed on a shirt can be a useful reminder in the manner of “person, woman, man, camera, TV”, lest we forget any amidst our daily badassery and ladybossery.
But what adult walks around in such a T-shirt? A parent who dresses their baby in a onesie that reads “I was made with love“?
As it is, feminism, the artist formerly known as a political movement, has been reborn a lifestyle slogan. Astonishing amounts of merchandise that incorporate words such as pussy, vagina, ass, babe, fuck and bitch are being sold as female empowerment. I have a complicated relationship with (feminist) slogan clothing. Clothes that speak louder than the wearer almost never turn up quite right. Exhibit: Melania’s “I really don’t care, do u?” -parka as she traveled to look at migrant children at the border.
There’s also the slippery slope of outfit double standards:
MAGA-dorks dressed up as farm animals to the Capitol Hill insurrection: ridiculous, laughable.
Women dressed up as vulvas and wearing “This pussy grabs back!” -shirts to the Women’s March: empowering role models.
I just finished Meghan Daum’s The Problem With Everything, which reads like a deliciously middle aged manual for dealing with millennial fads. She had many thoughts about merchandise that carries slogans such as “I Drink Male Tears” and “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional Or It Will Be Bullshit“.
Daum also wonders whether people today might have become toddler versions of their adult selves, what with the constant need to be coddled from the real world. A similar thought crossed my mind earlier as I read about adult Finnish theatre students who were outraged and upset because the university curriculum includes works by Shakespeare, because Shakespeare was not woke, and people suffered violent deaths in his plays. (Not looking forward to Finnish theatres performing the Teletubbies in the future.)
I also read that Ivy-league universities these days offer their adult students “safe spaces for napping”.
Childishness often manifests itself also through awkward social media posts that used to be called brain farts, but are now “personal brand building” – Fran Lebowitz would probably explain these grown-ups to be those children whose parents loved them so much that for the rest of their lives they firmly believe everything they utter to be absolute gold.
Daum opines that there’s never been a civilisation as emotionally needy as this one. Begging for social media likes to dope up ego is an obvious symptom. So is the self-righteousness and the repackaging of narcissism as revolution. As nuances definitively left the political- and online discourse about five years ago, it feels like everywhere I look there’s a gathering of adult toddlers screaming bloody murder because they are right and everything is unfair, especially for women.
I have read many of the hyped woke-bibles of the recent past, and Daum’s essays were a refreshing blast of air, if only for her well researched and even-keeled observations on the evolving of feminism. There’s another interesting literary event in the pipeline: the feisty and provocative book critic Lauren Oyler has a novel out next week (Fake Accounts). She has famously torn apart several woke-darlings, such as Roxane Gay’s ‘Bad Feminist’ and Jia Tolentino’s ‘Trick Mirror‘ in her reviews, to much public outcry, obviously.
As Oyler is currently doing press for her upcoming novel, you will be able to find interesting interviews about her in major papers such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. (She’s the ghost writer of president Obama’s former deputy chief of staff Alyssa Mastromonaco’s and “other high level politicians'” memoirs.)
Finally, because feminism equals self care, no longer a ‘nice to have’ luxury but a necessity, you will have contemplated purchasing a scented candle to perfume the air as you stew in the empowering ointments.
Consider Gwyneth’s orgasm-candle instead of the one that smells like her vulva. According to media reports, the latter had exploded in an apartment in London.
Then, just add laughter and love and voilà you’re done!
2 thoughts on “Live! Laugh! Love!”
Thanks for this article. Daum was not on my radar and I’m now intrigued. As for Oyler, your piece prompted me to look into her criticism of Gay- given that I had read her Hunger book and found it lacking in any depth (among other issues). Oyler’s Bookslut piece on Gay’s Bad Feminist encapsulates ALL that I thought was wrong with Hunger. It is a very brave critique, because as Oyler writes -and as I feel-, “Gay is in my camp.” And all of this, I think, goes back to the underlying thesis which is that the general conversation has become very populist, shallow, and artificially designated as “either with us or against us.” For example, I think about the Me Two movement (again, my camp) and my own personal experience with four or five incidents of -inflicted upon- sexually inappropriate behavior at work. Of all these disturbing incidents only one surmounted to the level of warranting the removal of the guy from his position- with the rest, I could simply dust myself off and go on. I doubt that in the current climate of shallow conversation this nuanced view has any safe-space to exist.
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Dear Maya, thank you for reading and commenting!
Fully with you on how public conversation has become very polarised, lacking nuance. It’s reached the level that I sometimes fear for the future of freedom of press and expression. It is bold to publicly go against the grain, but it is equally uncomfortable that we should consider it the ultimate act of bravery and not just a regular day in the office for a book critic… (also see how Variety was made to apologise to Carey Mulligan after a review).